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Road To Perdition

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Road To Perdition

Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman
Director: Sam Mendes
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: July 2002
Genre: Drama

Review by Jerry Saravia
3 stars out of 4

Like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks has great sincerity. Here is an actor who always brings authority and truth to his roles - a man who you believe you can trust. Witness his range of work from "Philadelphia" to "Saving Private Ryan." Therefore, as he once said on an interview with Charlie Rose, the last thing he would play is a serial killer. I can't see that ever happening, but a hit man? Now that is an unusual change-of-pace, but don't be fooled. Hanks is still authoritative and full of truth but he does manage to convincingly play "a bad man" who kills people.

Based on a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, "The Road to Perdition" is set in 1931 in Chicago, the time of Al Capone and Prohibition. Hanks is Michael Sullivan, the main enforcer for the grumpy mob boss, John Rooney (Paul Newman, in another change-of-pace role). Rooney has been helpful and generous to Michael and his family for so long that Rooney considers him family, much to the chagrin of his own flesh and blood, Connor (Daniel Craig). Michael's eldest son, Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin), is curious about his father's business and frequent outings at night. One night, junior becomes witness to a murder, causing problems for Michael Sr. and his family, which consists of his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a younger son. Suddenly, a series of misunderstandings and double-crosses occur, not to mention murder, and now Michael and his presumptuous son are on the loose, eluding the death throes of Rooney's other hit men on his payroll. One clever hit man doubles as a crime photographer. He is Maguire (Jude Law), who is always hunched over and dresses like a mean Charles Chaplin - his orders are to kill Michael, not the son.

Essentially, "The Road to Perdition" deals with father-son relationships in the mob, a theme that has not emerged in the genre of mob crime pictures before. It is also a continuing theme of dysfunctional families trying to come terms with their own faults as evidenced by director Sam Mendes's spectacular debut film, "American Beauty." This time, Mendes tries to fuse those elements in a crime picture and the results are often dazzling, if also lacking some depth. This is permissible since we are dealing with interactive behavior between Michael and his son and his strained relationship with his surrogate father, Rooney. If only there had been as much emphasis between Rooney and his real son, Connor - a character who is disappointingly cartoonish (he has one good line - "this is all so f***ing hysterical.")

"The Road to Perdition" has lots to recommend for all film fans and also for those who loved Mendes as a real actor's director with "American Beauty." He does not disappoint with most of the assured cast. Hanks brings measured simplicity and restrained emotion to the ambiguous Michael, an antihero who is simply a dad (or as Michael's son recalls in reliable voice-over narration, "he was just my father.") Hanks is not playing a stereotypical Joe Pesci gangster from a Martin Scorsese movie. Instead he opts for some humanistic touches to a man who is only doing his job.

Paul Newman is also quietly effective and menacing as the older, wiser Rooney who still loves Michael as if he was his own son, even if he wants him dead. Jude Law also exudes the kind of charisma with his piercing eyes and rat-like body language that can only come from a major movie star, and he is the real star of the show. Every scene he is in, he steals it from reliable heavyweights like Hanks and Newman. Law's final scene is a shocker. Unfortunately, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Daniel Craig merely have throwaway roles and do not make any lasting impressions.

"The Road to Perdition" is not quite a gangster picture (though there is plenty of gunfire) and not quite a noir piece (though there are endless shots of rainy nights). It is a family drama, though it does not have the scope and weight of something like "The Godfather." I consider it a lark for Sam Mendes, who may go on to greater things. This is first-class entertainment with prize-winning performances by Hanks and Newman. Their piano duet scene is exemplary, and the difference between attention to character detail versus attention to bullet-size holes. I'll take the former.

Copyright 2002 Jerry Saravia

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